Unity through God’s redemptive acts
1 Kings 12:1-19
It was the worship of God that provides the basis for unity, but idolatry fractured Israel back into their tribal factional self-interests.
In the last blog it was shown that God is the rightful Ruler of all of creation due to His sovereignty. The Kingdom of God is primarily based upon God’s sovereignty, authority and His right to rule. Flowing from God’s right to rule is the realms over which He exercises His authority and the subjects to His authority[i]. The kingdom of God is therefore the sphere of God’s rulership and dominion, accordingly God’s all-encompassing active rulership over “all reality”[ii]. Scripture teaches that God’s kingdom is over all kingdoms (Ps. 103:19), the earth and all in it is God’s (Pss. 24:1; 50:1; 89:11). Israel was to be an earthly manifestation of God’s Kingdom, towards all nations. God according to the Bible’s understanding is the true ruler amongst other gods; the true ruler over all nations and specifically, the true ruler of the theocracy (a form of government where God is the true civil leader) that is Israel[iii]. Therefore alongside God’s universal domain of rulership, God is the King of His covenant people. God is “Jacob’s King” (Is. 41:21) and Israel were to be “a holy nation” and “a kingdom of priests” (Ex. 19:6). Obedience to God’s voice and commandments would establish God’s rule and God’s kingship amongst the nations through Israel. Unfortunately, their rebellious nature cost them the kingdom in the end[iv].
Before the establishment of the Monarchy in Israel prophecies were given in Scripture that predicted the coming of earthly kings that would rule Israel on God’s behalf. God promised Abraham that kings would arise from his descendants (Gen. 17:6; 35:11; 36:31). Jacob in blessing his sons prophetically envisaged Judah as a “lion” from whom the sceptre of kingship would not depart, therefore foreshadowing the Davidic covenant (Gen. 49:8-12). Balaam pronounced a blessing upon a future kingdom of Israel (Num. 24:7) to the great irritation of Balak who had summoned him. The covenantal renewal for the generation that would enter the Promised Land prophetically gave covenantal laws that were to be obeyed by future kings in a future kingdom (Deut. 17:14-20). Hannah, joyously in her celebratory song, prophetically foresaw that her son would become a kingmaker (1 Sam. 2:1-10). The rulership of the yet to come Davidic line became the hope of a promised Messianic rule[v].
Deborah’s song (Jud. 5) of victory over Sisera revealed an Israel that was not united in a uniform national identity. At the time of the Judges the nation was a collection of distinct tribes that were not integrated into a nation as yet. At this point the history of Israel was a loose alliance of segmented tribal loyalties influenced by smaller units of extended families[vi]. The Judges were not national leaders but local charismatic leaders raised up by God in order to provide military or judicial leadership as the need of the specific geographical circumstances may have dictated[vii]. The singular unifying factor of this loose federation of tribes was the worship of God. The tribes experienced a miraculous deliverance from Egyptian slavery and at Mount Sinai they were established as His covenantal people. The redemptive actions of God were the predominant unifying activity among the tribes that promoted a single national identity and created a connected shared redemptive consciousness. Although under the judges there was little political, social or cultural unity[viii]. External and internal forces were driving the tribes towards nationhood and forming a kingdom. The tribes moved from a “rustic chiefdom to a bureaucratic imperial structure.”[ix]
One external factor was the military threat posed by the Philistines, a people who was organisationally and technologically (1 Sam. 13:19) more advanced than Israel. Along with the Philistines, the Ammonites aggressively pursued geographical expansion. Israel had no standing army and military defences were tribally structured. As the population grew and the agricultural development of the Promised Land succeeded, a need arose for amalgamation and collaboration between the tribes[x]. A growing population needed the more centralised and more complex organisation of the economy that nationhood would create[xi]. Internal factors such as the moral deterioration, idolatry and the social inequality between tribes are blamed by the Book of Judges on the fact that Israel did not have a king (Jdg. 17:6, 18:1, 19:1, 20:25)[xii]. Gideon rejected the kingship offered to him (Jdg. 8:22), but his son Abimelech tried to seize it by force (Jdg. 9). Jephthah was involved in tribal war (Jdg. 12) and the historical account of Judges (Jdg. 17-21) ends in atrocious anarchy of Israel on the periphery of continuous bloody tribal conflict. After Eli and Samuel had failed (due to the moral deficiencies of their sons) to provide a hereditary and enduring solution to Israel’s need for godly governance, the people demanded a king (1 Sam. 2; 8).
In the Book of Judges, each tribe acted in their own interests rather than on behalf of a united nation of Israel. Keeping the tribes together was difficult throughout the period of the kingdom. Saul experienced some opposition to his appointment as king at first (1 Sam. 10:27). After the death of Saul, there was a civil war between his house and the house of David (2 Sam. 2-4). In the house of David treason and insurgences led to civil war (2 Sam. 14-18). These events within the house of David widened the rift between the tribes (1 Sam. 19-20). These tensions erupted in 1 Kings 12. The unity of Israel in the Book of Kings is exposed to have been a thin veneer under a covenant-keeping king[xiii]. As revealed within the narrative, the unity between the tribes proved to be unstable without God’s blessing[xiv]. Solomon’s later reign placed even more pressure on these existing stress points. Heavy taxation and conscript labour placed a heavier burden upon an already delicate unity (1 Kings 4:27-28), 5:13-18). During his reign Hadad the Edomite (1 Kings 11:14-22), Rezon son of Eliada (1 Kings 11:23-25) and Jeroboam son of Nebat (1 Kings 11:26-40) were thorns in his side. Israel is a nation that emerged from civil war and those scar-lines were not completely healed.
As stated before God is saving a people for His name and the fullness of His Kingdom will only be received by a people (Dan. 7:18). The fullness of God’s inheritance is released in the community of God’s covenant people. The “greater” that God wants to do is through a community. We all share in the great salvation that the blood of Jesus brought us, but Paul states that like Israel we need to be immersed into the community of God’s covenant people (1 Cor. 12:12-13). For Israel to have been protected, provided for and to have walked in the fullness of God’s promises they needed to unite as the covenant people of God. In Jesus’s prayer for the community of believers, it is our supernatural unity that testifies to a dying world that Jesus is Lord (John 17:20-23). It is the united community of believers that manifest the fullness of God (Eph. 3:10) to principalities and rulers in heavenly places. There were many external and internal reasons for the tribes to unite and form the nation of Israel and in doing so each benefited politically, militarily, socially and economically. It was the worship of God that provided the basis for unity, but idolatry fractured Israel back into tribal factional self-interests[xv]. Samuel described God as the Glory of Israel (1 Sam. 15:29), a term that means perpetual glory. It is God who is the source of His covenant community’s splendour and the One who sustains the community[xvi]. God is therefore the initiator and sustainer of His covenant community, but the fullness of His purposes is only released through a unified covenant community. Although an individual tribe could have experienced the salvation, protection and provision of God, they could only have walked in the fullness of God’s kingdom as a united community.
[i] (Ladd 1981:13-23)
[ii] (Johnson 2004:478)
[iii] (Heim 2005:616)
[iv] (Williams 1992:289-295)
[v] (Goldsworthy 2001:n.a.)
[vi] (Sparks 2005:270)
[vii] (Heim 2005:618)
[viii] (Heim 2005:616)
[ix] (Mendenhall 1975:157)
[x] (Finkelstein 1989:48)
[xi] (Mendenhall 1975:157)
[xii] (Heim 2005:618)
[xiii] (Goldsworthy 2001)
[xiv] (Block 2005)
[xv] (Block 2005)
[xvi] (Block 2005)
Block, DI 2005. “God.” Pp. 336-354 in Dictionary of the Old Testament: Historical Books, edited by Arnold BT and Williamson HGM. Downer Groves: InterVarsity Press.
Brindle, W. 1984. “The Causes of the Division of Israel’s Kingdom.” Bibliotheca Sacra (July-September):223-233.
Dietrich, W. 2007. The Early Monarchy in Israel: The Tenth Century B.C.E. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature.
Finkelstein, I. 1989. “The emergence of the Monarchy in Israel the environmental and socio-economic aspects.” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 44:43-74.
Goldsworthy, G 2001. “Kingdom of God.” in Dictionary of Biblical Theology, edited by TD Alexander and BS Rosner. electronic ed. ed. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press.
Griffiths, WR. 1967. “Covenant and Charisma as related to the Establishment and Dissolution of the United Monarchy of Israel.” Iliff Review 24 no 3 Fall 1967:43-50.
Heim, KM 2005. “Kings and Kingship.” Pp. 610-622 in Dictionary of the Old Testament: Historical Books, edited by Arnold BT and Williamson HGM. Downer Groves: InterVarsity Press.
Ladd, GD. 1981. The Gospel of the Kingdom. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
Mendenhall, GE. 1975. “The monarchy.” Interpretation 29:155-179.
Sparks, KL 2005. “Ethnicity.” Pp. 268-272 in Dictionary of the Old Testament: Historical Books, edited by Arnold BT and Williamson HGM. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press.
Van Groningen, G. 1996. Evangelical Commentary on the Bible. Grand Rapids: Baker.
Verkuyl, J. 1979. “The Kingdom of God as the Goal of the Missio Dei.” International Review of Mission 68 168-175.
Williams, JR. 1992. Renewal Theology. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.